Warning: This post contains spoilers from episode 5 of The Exorcist. Proceed with caution.
“My name is Regan MacNeil.”
And just like that, The Exorcist finally revealed the secret it had been keeping since before the series aired: The Fox series is not a reboot of the classic 1973 movie. Instead it’s a sequel, with Geena Davis playing an older version of the famously possessed girl.
“It was a secret that I safeguarded from the network, the studio, and the other actors. Even some of the producers and my friends,” says executive producer Jeremy Slater of keeping the big twist under wraps. “I was terrified to let any hint of this slip out, because I knew that once the cat was out of the bag, we would never be able to put it back in. There’s a lot of moments in the pilot that probably make more sense in retrospect, when you go back and watch them now, knowing what we all know.”
With the series finally revealing it’s big (neck) twist, EW spoke to executive producer Slater about the big surprise, what it means for the Rance family, and whether the show will be touching on any of the other Exorcist movies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you decide to keep this secret until the midpoint of the show, as opposed to revealing it a little earlier in the season?
JEREMY SLATER: I was forced to lie a lot in the last few months that we were telling a brand new story with brand new characters. The details may have been a lie, but the sentiment behind it was very real. I did want audiences to approach this as a brand new story, and to fall in love with this family and become invested in their plight. Not because she has a famous name, or because it’s a sequel to a story that we heard 40 years ago, but just because they like these characters, and they wanted to see this family delivered from evil. I knew we would never be able to do that if we ended the pilot on the Regan reveal. Everything would immediately be re-contextualized. The midpoint was always the game plan from the very beginning. We were going to build up to a failed exorcism and Casey was going to escape and be lost in the wild for the second half of the season. That’s when we were going to hit audiences with the reveal.
Chris MacNeil is now back in her daughter’s life. What’s in store for her and Angela?
What’s interesting about Chris is [that] her story is very much unwritten, in the same way that Regan’s is. We have no idea what happened to that family after they got in their car at the end of The Exorcist and drove away. You have 40 years worth of questions to fill in for the audience. You get to hear both sides of the story as we go along. Chris’ movie career did start to suffer as a result. She was in the middle of this media firestorm. Two men died in her home under very mysterious circumstances. It really was a sort of national scandal that derailed her film career in a very big way. At some point, they did have to kind of resort to unconventional means to keep the money coming in, to maintain their lifestyle. The two women have very different opinions on what that entailed. Angela looks at that as, “You exploited my tragedy. You took something terrible that happened to me, and you tried to make a buck off of it.” Chris is going to come at it from a very different angle, where all she was ever trying to do was protect her daughter, and to try to take this terrible trauma and spin it into something positive at the end of the day. That really kind of drove a wedge between the mother and the daughter, and that’s something we’re going to be exploring in a pretty big way when the show comes back.
How does the rest of the Rance family react to this revelation?
It’s a pretty big bombshell because they’ve spent their entire lives being told that their mother was someone else, that their grandmother was dead, and now suddenly you find out not only is mom lying, but mom was kind of famous, or infamous, as a child. She was America’s possessed girl. It turns out grandma is actually alive, and she was a giant movie star in the ’70s. It really calls into question everything you thought you knew about this family and this woman. Part of the dynamic we’re going to be playing with is not only is Angela forced to confront this woman who she cut out of her life 30 years ago, she’s really kind of backed into a corner. She’s forced to fight for her family in a way she’s never had to before, because suddenly, they don’t trust her. Suddenly, a wedge has been driven between them. You’re going to see Angela go to a very isolated, very lonely place as she attempts to pick up the pieces and make some amends for these lies that she’s told.
Is the rest of the world aware of what happened to the MacNeils?
The story of Regan MacNeil was probably a pretty big news story back in the day. Chris was fairly famous at the time. Imagine a movie star today, her daughter apparently becomes possessed by a demon, and in the process of trying to save the daughter, two or three people wind up getting killed? It would be this sensational news story that you would never hear the end of. Something really similar happened. You’re going to start seeing the public start to piece together some of these mysteries and connecting the dots a little bit, and realizing that this story may be a little more sensational than they were first led to believe. That’s going to manifest itself in some really surprising ways for this family. You’re going to initially see the city really come together in support of finding this mystery girl, and really see the city mobilize behind the search for Casey Rance. But as time goes on, and as more of these details start to come to the forefront, you’re going to start to see the public sentiment really turn against the Rance family, which, again, it’s just another way to tighten the screws on our poor characters, and give them new interesting scenes to play with.
Is the show going to delve into Exorcist II or any of the other sequel movies, or is it just, this is a direct connection for one?
[The show] is wholly depending on pretending that Exorcist II never happened. Once you start talking about James Earl Jones in a tribal headdress and swarms of locusts and Regan psychically curing people’s autism, we would jump the shark very, very quickly if we tried to work all of those events into continuity. We’re pretending it never happened. And luckily, Exorcist III, the good sequel, and both of the prequel movies, none of them really involved the Rance family. We have to kind of avoid the issue of one movie, which isn’t hard to do.
The Exorcist airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.